Nanotechnology is by far the most exciting of all of the surface sciences, and is being used in a very great number of applications throughout the world. Nanotechnology is something which is relatively recently discovered to humankind, but something which will provide so much application in a great very many fields. All-in-all, nanotechnology is something that will change the shape of all sciences, and it is something which is sounding distinctly less like Science fiction and more like actuality.
The field of medicine in particular stands to benefit largely from nanotech, in a great many ways. One of the biggest ways of which it hopes to benefit is from a viable, proven cure for cancer. Cancer is a disease that needs no explanation. Most of the population have been touched by the experience of themselves, or a loved one with the disease, but to understand how nanotechnology can provide a viable cure for cancer demands an understanding of what the disease is.
A Brief Overview of Cancer, and How it Kills a Patient
The human body is comprised of a multitude of cells which work together, alike a colony of ants or bees, following chemical signals to behave a certain way. The way that cells behave is dictated by the type of cell it is. Red blood cells exist to carry oxygen and other resources around the body, the immune system cells work in order to attack things they recognize as not belonging, or not right, and so on. Everything your body does is controlled at a cellular level by an unspoken, chemical agreement between all the cells of the body.
A cancerous cell is any cell which has undergone a series of mutations in order to change into something which no longer recognizes or obeys the chemical signals of the body. Cancerous cells are characterised by the fact that they grow and divide uncontrollably, and tend to mutate uncontrollably, often hogging resources which the rest of the body needs in order to allow it to multiply on and on.
Where cancer is a silent killer is the fact that the immune system of the human body typically has little way to identify what cells are cancerous and which are not. On occasion, an immune system may be able to pick up certain markers of a cancerous cell and therefore attack it, but the very nature of cancer is constant changing. When the cancer next mutates, it will take a form that an immune system will consider normal, and therefore be free to multiply and spread.
The Limitations of Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy
Marie Curie is the scientist which discovered that radiowaves are lethal to cancer cells. This is a statement which is entirely and completely true, but it is a vague one. Radiowaves tend to be lethal to all cells, cancerous or not. Radiotherapy is the act of subjecting a cancer sufferer to controlled doses of radiation in the hope of destroying cancerous cells while not destroying enough healthy cells to kill a patient.
Chemotherapy works in the same manner, but on a chemical level. Chemotherapy floods your body with chemicals which are engineered to be lethal to fast-growing and dividing cells such as cancer, but many healthy cells of the body display the same characteristics. Chemotherapy attacks the cells of the skin, hair, intestines and the bone marrow, the latter of the four being something needed to sustain life. Like radiotherapy, the aim with chemotherapy is to closely monitor treatment. The limitations of which are the difficulty in ensuring that the patient has quality of life during, and after their treatment.
How Nanotechnology can Target and Kill Cancer
There have been successful studies across North Wales and beyond with utilising nanotechnology to create star-shaped gold particles which are coated in a series of DNA molecules that sticks to specific molecular targets. It has been discovered that cancer cells, alike other cells, have a type of protein which is on the exterior of the cell. This protein varies according to the type of cancer, but, interestingly, is never the same as the protein of a healthy cell.
Cancer research along the years has pinpointed ways of identifying cancers from assessing protein levels in the body, and the mechanics behind nanoparticle delivery would be to introduce the gold nanoparticles to the body. They would be too small to adversely affect anything within the body, but would instead make its way to the cancer cell because of attraction to the protein.
When the star attaches itself to the cancer, a laser is fired at it, which causes the star to dissolve and release a payload of the DNA molecules it carries into the nucleus (brain) of the cell. Total cell death occurs in a precise and a fast manner, unlike conventional chemo or radiotherapy which can be likened to bombing a wide area and hoping to destroy the cancer cell as well.
The advantages of this method are myriad. It provides a precise way to destroy a cancer cell without affecting healthy ones (and patient health), is not affected by other factors of the patients life (medicine already being taken, other illnesses, other conditions) and delivers a non-invasive means to attack cancer on an effective, and proven level.